Phil Roe: Replacing No Child Left Behind

Editor’s Note: We welcome Tennessee Congressman Phil Roe to the blog to discuss the Every Student Succeeds Act. Congressman Roe serves on the House Education and Workforce Committee.

This week, the House passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, bicameral, bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This is the first reauthorization of ESEA since No Child Left Behind was signed into law by President George W. Bush and took effect in 2002. Unfortunately, though well-intentioned, NCLB has created a maze of government bureaucracy for students, their families, educators and school administrators. ESSA includes important reforms to return control to the local level, prevent the Secretary of Education from coercing states to adopt Common Core and pave the way for educators and school administrators to get back to what they do best by eliminating bureaucracy in the education system.

I’ve served on the House Education and Workforce Committee since coming to Congress in 2009, and have visited with hundreds of educators in and around the First Congressional District. I’ve also had the opportunity to speak with students and their families and a there’s a common theme in our conversations: stop Common Core and get Washington bureaucrats out of our schools. I’m proud to say that the Every Students Succeeds Act will do those important things, all while preserving conservative education principles. In November, I was pleased to see Chairmen Kline and Alexander and Ranking Members Scott and Murray announce the framework for a compromise to reauthorize ESEA had been developed. I was asked to serve on the Conference Committee, and worked with my colleagues to find a path forward to bring this bill to the floor.

The Every Student Succeeds Act repeals the one-size-fits-all “adequate yearly progress” accountability system, a standard set by the federal government, and replaces it with a statewide accountability program. This gives each state the ability to set their own standards, and, most importantly, to identify and assist struggling schools and districts. It also preserves our commitment to student performance by ensuring we’re regularly tracking student progress, but without requiring states to opt-in to a rigorous testing system by allowing them the flexibility to offer nationally recognized local assessments as long as those assessments meet reliability, validity and comparability standards.

To ensure states have control of their education system, this bill explicitly prevents the Secretary of Education from coercing states into adopting academic standards, such as Common Core. While Common Core began as a state-led initiative, it has morphed into a quasi-federal set of standards as the Secretary has used his authority to issue waivers from certain federal mandates in exchange for the adoption of Common Core. This provision is a huge win for our students and educators. Additionally, the Every Student Succeeds Act provides greater funding flexibility to states and school districts so they can better target their resources to areas with the most needs. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for health care, and it certainly won’t work for our students. Each and every student has their own unique needs, and this bill allows education leaders to set their own priorities, ensuring students have the resources they need to be successful.

The most important thing we can do in education is to return control to the states and local school districts, and this bill does that. It’s the product of the hard work of Chairmen Kline and Alexander and Ranking Members Scott and Murray, and was done through regular order. This is how Congress is supposed to get things done for the American people, and I’m proud of this bill and what it will do for the future of this country. Our students are our future, and they deserve access to a quality education.

Rep. Roe represents Tennessee’s First Congressional District. He serves on the House Committees on Education and Workforce and Veterans Affairs, and served on the conference committee for the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Interview with Congressman Phil Roe

Below is an interview with Congressman Phil Roe (R-TN), who is a member of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education in the United States House of Representatives. He also serves on the full Education & the Workforce Committee. He represents the First Congressional District of Tennessee, which includes Carter, Cocke, Greene, Hamblen, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi, Washington, Jefferson and Sevier Counties.

We really wanted to know what role the federal government can play in education in Tennessee, and we are glad that Congressman Roe agreed to an interview to answer our questions.


1.      Tennessee teachers hear a lot of what’s going on at the state level in regards to education. How can the federal government help Tennessee teachers?

I think that the federal government can best serve Tennessee educators by eliminating unnecessary layers of Washington bureaucracy and returning decision-making power to state and local officials who best know the needs of their schools.


2.      How should federal education policy be changed to be of most benefit to Tennessee school systems?

Again, I believe empowering educators and school administrators with flexibility and the ability to make decisions at the local level is one of the most important policy changes Congress can make. That is what the House did in H.R. 5, the Student Success Act, which I worked on in my capacity as a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. The Senate, unfortunately, has not acted on this important bill.


3.      Do you support the President’s early childhood education initiative?

Our children deserve a quality education. Research has shown that if we do not provide a quality education in the early elementary years any gains made in pre-K are quickly lost, so I believe before we consider expanding our early childhood education we should first focus our efforts on addressing the shortcomings in our K-12 system.  Devoting resources to new expensive programs will take away from this focus.


4.      Tennessee was an early winner of Race to the Top funds. Do you believe this program has benefitted teachers and students in Tennessee?

While there’s no question that receiving Race to the Top funds has helped Tennessee, one of the things that concerns me about the program is that the U.S. Department of Education has been able to coerce states into reforms that exceed the department’s authority. I think that the program could be strengthened significantly if we reauthorize ESEA programs so that there is explicit authorization as to what can – and can’t – be pursued for state reforms.   I look forward to seeing our state’s continued progress.

5.      Do you think it’s time to revamp Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)? Times have changed since it was first passed in 1974, and some people believe FERPA does not do enough to protect children’s privacy in the digital age.


FERPA protects students from their educational records from being shared for non-educational purposes without their—or, in the case of a minor, their parent’s—consent.  This basic principal has not changed even as the way in which data is stored and handled has changed. With that being said, there’s no question that data is being shared in ways that couldn’t have possibly been imagined in 1974, so I think it’s important for Congress to review how data is being used and determine if additional limits are warranted.


6.      As a member of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education, you must see a lot of bills that have been filed. If you could pass one piece of legislation today in regards to education, which bill would it be and why?

We know that 2,000 high schools in our country account for 75 percent of the dropouts nationwide.  We must focus our efforts to improve these schools, but in the meantime, students trapped in these so-called “drop-out factories” deserve a choice in where they get their education. I believe expanding the DC voucher program, in which students are given a voucher so they can choose where they get their education, is the most important reform to ensure an entire generation of students isn’t lost.


7.      Similar to the previous question, which law would you like to see repealed (or change) to help our education system?

According to the School Nutrition Association’s (SNA) analysis and explanation of the latest rule for school lunch nutrition standards, the maximum number of calories a student in grades K-5 can have at lunch is 650. This is the first time in history the USDA has set a calorie cap on students. This rule is so overly prescriptive teachers are left with the challenge of teaching hungry students. Students and teachers aren’t the only ones suffering under this new rule. I have been contacted by a school director in my district that has had to resort to instructing his cafeteria staff to count out how many tater tots each student gets just so he’s in compliance with these regulations. I believe we should repeal the calorie caps on school lunches and focus more in providing nutritious meals for students that participate in school lunch programs around the country.